Barbera is a prolific grape variety found primarily in the Piemonte region of Italy. It is that country's third most planted red vine, and though it ripens fairly late in the season, it retains a bright acidity that carries over into the wine. Medium in body with soft tannins, it is a very approachable variety, and that acidity makes it food friendly. It's the perfect choice for a spring barbecue (just brush the snow off your grill). Two of the top wines tasted are from the Asti zone of Piemonte. The third, unexpectedly, is a local standout.

2001 Litina Barbera d'Asti Superior, $14.99

Surprisingly fresh for a 5-year-old wine but with the complexity that only comes with time in the bottle. This wine is lithe and lovely on the nose, with a core of dark berry fruit and touches of black pepper, earth and anise. The rich and creamy red fruit flavors are balanced by bright acidity with nuances of leather, spice, bittersweet chocolate, bacon and dried cherries.

2007 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti, Superiore, Le Orme, $14.99

This wine features bright, brambly fruit on the nose with touches of herb anise and mocha. Elegantly structured on the palate, this, like most Italian wines, begs to be paired with food. The flavors are straightforward, with tart cherry and crisp berry fruit up front, backed by a bracing hit of acidity. Drink it with a meal (beef, poultry, pasta) and it really shines.

2006 Snake River Barbera, $16.99

The beautiful dark cherry and lively blueberry aromas in this wine are colored by soft, sweet oak, vanilla and chocolate. This is a supple wine that opens with enticing red fruit flavors that shift to blueberry and plum on the mid palate. There's a nice kiss of oak and good acidity on the finish making it a real winner from this Idaho winery.

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